French Court Imposed €300,000 In Fines Against Google’s Book Scanning Project

December 21, 2009 0

Paris — A French court last week imposed an astounding amount of fine €300,000 ($430,000), against Google Inc., owner of the most popular Internet-search engine, for copyright infringement and ordered the search giant to pull all the scanned books off its site, a Paris court ruled today.

The Paris Civil Court stated that Google breached the French copyrights of two groups representing publishers, editors and authors, for scanning entire books or excerpts that are put on line, “Google has committed acts of copyright violation to the detriment of Le Seuil” and to publisher Editions du Seuil SAS, which filed the lawsuit.

“Google violated author copyright laws by entirely reproducing and making accessible on the site” books owned by Seuil without its permission, the court wrote in a 22-page decision.

Google is likely to appeal the judgment that could undermine the Google Books Library Project. The search titan has hit a roadblock in France that could halt its book-scanning project. Google Books wants to scan more than 50 million books into digital versions.

The case was brought in 2006 by one of France’s most popular publishing houses, Le Seuil, supported by the 530-member SNE and the authors’ guild was contesting Google’s decision in 2005 to digitize millions of books from US and European libraries and make them available on line, which asserted that around 4,000 of its works have been digitized by Google without consent.

A Paris tribunal found Google guilty of infringement for exposing fragments of the scanned books online and ordered Google to pay 300,000 euros in damages to the three publishers owned by La Martiniere group and a symbolic sum of one euro to the SNE Publishers’ Association and the SGDL Society of Authors.

La Martiniere was seeking 15 million euros in damages and interests.

Criticism by industry and governments in Europe compelled Google to restrict its accord to establish a Book Rights Registry to works published in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada.

Google plans to challenge the ruling and is supposed to base its argument on the fact that it is authorized from U.S. libraries to scan and post excerpts the books without permission from authors. Google also plans to argue that its indexing and displaying of books does not break French copyright law.

“We disagree with the court’s ruling and will appeal the judgment,” said Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesperson. “We believe that displaying a limited number of short extracts from books complies with copyright legislation both in France and the U.S. — and improves access to books.”

“French readers now face the threat of losing access to a significant body of knowledge and falling behind the rest of Internet users,” Stricker added. “If readers are able to search and find books, they are more likely to buy and read them.”

Google does not allow users to actually access or view the entire books, rather it enables them to search the contents and displays short excerpts of the portion of the text containing the query. Google agreed to pay copyright holders for protected works and seek to find owners of so-called orphan works whose owners are unknown. The settlement left open many of the issues dealt with in today’s decision dealing with Google Books in France.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced this month that France “could be deprived of our heritage” by Google’s project. In an attempt to counter this move, Sarkozy said that his government will spend 750 million euros to digitally scan its national treasures, vowing to protect its heritage at a time of suspicions over the American-owned Google’s digitization drive.

The court gave Google one month to apply the ruling and halt all digitization of French books or face a 10,000 euros per day fine.

The plaintiffs lawyer, Yann Colin, told the court that Google’s decision to digitize the books was “illegal, dangerous and caused prejudice to the publishers” who were powerless to oppose the agreement with libraries.

“We are very, very satisfied,” said Colin. “The decision is immediately enforceable, so even if they appeal, they must stop the scanning.”

“It is a great success for French publishing,” said Marie-Anne Gallot Le Lorier, a lawyer for the Syndicat National de l’Edition, one of the trade groups allied with Seuil.

Calls to his office and France’s Ministry of Culture for comment were not immediately returned.